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OPINION

Rebuilding the fort, memories included

The fort survived all suggestions that it was time to let it go. The fact that my dad was in on its creation, and finished it off with a lucky horseshoe, was just one more reason to save it.

My father and husband built the fort long ago for a little boy who turned 31 this year.
My father and husband built the fort long ago for a little boy who turned 31 this year.Joan Vennochi

It should have come down years ago. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, our backyard fort is getting a major makeover.

My father and husband built it long ago for a little boy who turned 31 this year.

The original structure, equipped with a secret trapdoor and climbing rope, expanded over the years, with a playhouse and winding slide. It was home base for a wide variety of games and activities. I remember once hearing my son tell my daughter that she could be "the cook” — whereupon I raced outside to demand that he let her join whatever military maneuver he and his friends were cooking up in the fort.

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The fort was well-used — including as a hangout and hideaway from adults during middle school days.

Exposed to the elements, it eventually started falling apart. But its location in the woods behind the garage made it easy to ignore. Although in winter, when the leaves are down, it’s harder. But like the rusty red wagon we have not yet had the heart to toss, the fort remained.

Several years ago, some children who lived on the other side of the strip of woods that runs behind our house asked if they could use it. I wanted to say yes, but I worried someone would get hurt. So I explained it was built a long time ago for other children, and it wasn’t as safe as it used to be. “Where did those kids go?” one of them asked.

Fellow empty-nesters — you know what questions like that can do to heartstrings and tear ducts. We are happy for our children’s successful passage to adulthood and even for the peace and quiet they leave behind. But at certain times, the finality of that passage hits like a giant, breaking wave that tosses you upside down.

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By the way, I think those neighborhood kids may have used the fort despite my warning, because sometimes I heard laughter back there. Anyway, the fort survived all suggestions that it was time to let it go. The fact that my dad was in on its creation, and finished it off with a lucky horseshoe, was just one more reason to save it.

Then came the coronavirus lockdown. As one day slid into the next, I decluttered closets and reorganized dishes and pans. I weeded where no one ever weeded before. I trimmed vines and pulled out roots. There were countless dog walks. And while I did all that, I dreamt up projects I couldn’t do, but someone else in the household could.

For example: Let’s transplant two hydrangea bushes that never bloom. Maybe they’ll do better on the other side of the house. Why not expand the patio? It will be good for socially distanced summer entertainment. Let’s build a new fence.

On the fence, I got pushback. My husband had another idea: Let’s restore the fort to its original glory. At any other time, I would have tried to dissuade him. There are so many other home improvement projects on my to-do list. But some, like cleaning out the garage, aren’t much fun. So why not rebuild the fort? It’s pleasant outside work that comes with sweet memories.

Of course, I’m not doing the work. I’m just watching it.

The rotting wood of the original structure is being replaced. The trapdoor still works and so does the climbing rope. With a new awning, I can use it to store gardening supplies.

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Then again, last October, the little boy who once played in it became the father of a son.

Thanks to this pandemic, the old fort is getting a face lift — in time for another little boy to climb on it, with his parents’ permission.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.